Is there anything more quintessential to the homeschooling mom than figuring out how to manage the family schedule in this huge, wide venture? So often I see moms of forums or facebook pages asking to see others’ schedules.
Every summer I do multiple drafts (usually while sitting in conferences…), feeling each year more and more like I’m completing a question in the logic portion of the GRE to get into graduate school. “Child # 2 has to have reading first thing in the morning, but he’s the least likely to be dressed and ready; child #1 can do writing at 9 but that’s also a good time to have child #2 doing spelling on the computer–but then, child #2 cannot do spelling then because he needs to clear the breakfast table before child #3 needs to do preschool activities… ” Add 10 more conditional statements of need and then sort it all out. Ha ha!
But I finally hacked out my new schedule and put it into place, to test it out the first week–with wariness. I want to convert it to a circle graph that I prefer for easy reference (how I do that, see Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)), but I know this is TEMPORARY! All plans, no matter how seemingly perfect in theory, have flaws! Whatever I tack on my kitchen wall will have cross-outs and switches and new ideas within the week! And that’s really ok. (As a writer, I’m a big fan of the idea that having something written is really just so you can finally SEE how you can improve it–as a novelist, hey, you have to have a strategy to become acclimated to living with years of revision!)
Then I began the school year. We’re 7 weeks in. And there was a surprise of the unexpected variety. It’s working. I’m ENJOYING the time with my children. I’m having more fun than I did last year. I’m actually teaching from a place of rest. (And I’ve barely gotten through the first chapter of that book…)
Let’s just say, last year was not like this. I was stressed. I’m a former public/private school teacher, and teachers always lament the lack of time to simply go to the bathrooom–and I was living that life again–having to go to the bathroom for hours and saying no to opportunities to do so because, no, if I didn’t get someone started on X, Y, Z right away, we’d lose time or attention, etc. That’s when you say to yourself–why am I do this????? The biggest problem with being a mom is that everyone wants your attention all the time–and being a homeschool mom increases that–nothing can happen without me, and going to the bathroom means three kids talking through the door, asking questions/instructions. Simply put, it can be maddening, stressful and down-right crazy-making.
I expected this year to be the same. Why is it better?
Below is my schedule. (I know some don’t like the idea of scheduling; I like the idea of that. But having a schedule is the only way I can keep myself accountable–and it’s a necessity for us as I also work-part-time from home and have an end-time we must arrive at in the afternoon. And–like rules–schedules are made to be broken. Were fortunate it’s not a school with a bell blaring in your ear to mark the end of a class; we can adjust however I deem necessary, any day, any hour.
This is our plan for three days a week. One day, we are involved in a Classical Conversations homeschool community, where my kids take classes. Another day, we’re gone for a few hours so the kids can take art, dance lego robotics. (On that day, we do only reading/writing and math.)
After you see my schedule for three kids, I’m going to reflect on why I think things are going better with it this year.
Take #1: 2017-2018 School Daily schedule:
|time||elder son younger son daughter*|
|8:10||<– Breakfast/prayer/verse/Bible reading –>|
|8:30||Personal devotions chores preschool activity|
|8:50||(review, CCC, research, <–CC Review –> (review, worksheets, timeline cards, map) crafts, maps)
|Essentials of English spelling (computer) chores
Reading or math break
|10:00||Ind. Reading Reading break
break when done
|10:30|| Unit Studies
anatomy, PA history, Art history, math/art connection, nutrition/cooking….
|11:15||on computer <–Spanish–> for this some days
|11:30|| <–American History–>
or World History for Eli only break break
|12:10||Spelling break break|
|1:45||<–Read aloud and free-drawing–>|
|2:15||Math math break|
Do math, cursive, Eli do writing, and their own projects
*My daughter is only 4. I’m a big proponent of not pushing kids to formal education this early and of delaying kindergarten age. But this child of mine defies the mold her brothers made and she has been begging to be involved with “school” as much as possible since she could express herself. She has been at the table doing history crafts (in her own capacity) or at least coloring/scribbling while we do school for years already. She’s not required by me to do ANY of this on her schedule. (Well, yes, her chores!) So her involvement is strictly as a volunteer.
These tips are the changes I made this year compared to last year.
Tip #1: Balance goals with reality for start time. Last year breakfast was at 8. I just couldn’t quite make it happen without putting a lot of stress on myself. Aiming for 8, I’d often make it by 8:10 or 8:15. So 8:10 it is. I am learning I have to reasonably avoid things that make me begin the day with my kids already stressed that I’m “behind.” (Ah, nostalgia–I remember when we breakfasted at 9! Ah the good days of having only a kindergartner!)
Tip #2: Remember your primary goal for your child, and make sure you give it time in your day. Having my oldest go off on his own to focus on his own spiritual life at his own pace is new. My biggest, over-arching goal for him–beyond academics–is to know God. And that doesn’t happen just by downloading knowledge as though faith is just a matter of having data. One of the best things I learned in grad school, getting my M.Ed, is the concept that you, as teacher, should devote class time to whatever you say/believe is priority. If you say it’s priority, but never devote time to it, and expect kids to do it alone at home, it’s not really priority. I realized this summer that I needed to give my son TIME–some of MY scheduled time–to pursue what our number one parenting goal is for him: to work out his own relationship with God, by himself.
Tip #3 Choose your first student wisely. After praying together, reading from the Bible and going over their memory verse for church, we then split ranks for one-on-instruction while two other kids do morning chores. I made sure the slowest-eating kid is NOT schooling right after breakfast, as I erroneously did last year! (Again, eliminating my stress in reasonable ways.)
Tip #4: Start with a combination that is positive: subject, personalities, etc. For the first time, I’m doing preschool activities for my daughter who demanded it! She is so eager, enthusiastic and full of sunshine–starting my day teaching her is good for the soul. It’s so low-key and just fun. For years, I’ve been all about making sure the first subject I teach is something I find easy or enjoy–my not-a-morning-person brains needs the kindness–but starting by teaching a person who is in LOVE with what you are doing is a new level of advantageous scheduling.
Tip #5: Take more off your plate, Mama, for what you think you can accomplish during a meal while eating, and give it it’s own designated time. This year, I actually scheduled CC review. (We’re part of Classical Conversations, a nation-wide homeschool group that has local communities that meet for classes once a week.) Last year, I did not incorporate reviewing into our school day; I planned that we’d review the flashcards as part of lunch. Sometimes that was OK. Sometimes that was annoying, and just one more thing for me to do when I was the last person to get a bite in the first place. Again, stress. (Not enough time to chew your food–another complaint of teaching in a brick-n-mortar school? Why is homeschooling better???)
This year, I added it in, and for the first time, I have printed out worksheets. (My younger two love them though–thanks CC Connected! But it would never have flown with my oldest!) Other days, we’ll practice drawing maps or watch something related to the history or science. My oldest child, 10, I often have doing something different. He has Memory Mastered multiple times, so today I had him choose a timeline card to read and then explain to his siblings, then I chose 5 cards at random and asked if he could find any connection or comparison between any of them. This is very new and stretching, and good. (Other days, I plan to have him practicing multiplication tables or maps among other things.)
Tip #6 Sometimes the computer program can be your friend. Adding in spelling for another child this year, as well as preschool for my girl, put serious questions about my time into play. But my second child, needing the spelling lessons, loves computers. I nearly jumped up and down in the aisle of a second-hand curriculum store when I found his spelling program, Sequential Spelling, on a CD I can insert into the computer. A voice and a screen give him instructions on what to spell and show him the answers and walk him through all the goals of the program! This frees me up to work with his brother on Essentials of the English language and writing.
Tip #7 Make compromises between the hard choices. My oldest can read independently. But I don’t really want to give up our reading time together. It’s my favorite part of homeschooling–reading a book with him and talking about it. So my compromise this year, for reasons of time: reading with him for 10 minutes, then leaving him to finish the assignment alone as I teach his brother reading.
Tip#8 My biggest change this year: Use a rotating unit study format to accomplish many goals. One son loves biology and anatomy and it alone motivates him to learn anything else. They also love art history, and I have a fascinating book from Usborne on the relationship between math and art. We also need to fit in some PA history–and i have book of plays for them to read/act out, which I think they will enjoy for that. Oh, and while we’re learning about digestion, good segue into nutrition and cooking. I’ve never done such a thing before, but I’m doing each of those in one-to-two month stretch. For science the past two years, I started a completely new subject in the spring–it was the best thing I ever did. So many things need to be done every day–writing, reading, spelling–it can get monotonous. Starting n entirely new science topic was such a good idea, I’m thinking it will be great to start entirely new, unique subjects throughout the year. I’ll cover more anatomy than anything else, but I’ll break up those units with the other ones.
Also, a main purpose of this time slot is to explore things they’ve asked to learn about–and not all my children have a burning passion to get into the nitty gritty about internal organs. One is quite disgusted, in fact. So some units are for all three kids, others are for just one or two, giving the other kid(s) free time.
Tip #9 Differentiate. We joined the homeschool Classical Conversations for my 10 year old, back when he was going into first grade–literally because the program was doing its medieval history cycle that year, and my son was into everything having to do with knights. (That wasn’t the only reason, but a big selling point.) So for him, we’ve always dug into history.
We’re doing Story of the World, the time periods covered in the last 2 volumes. But the focus in CC is just the American history. So I’m doing something else new–for the chapters relating to American history, all 3 kids are involved, but for the other chapters about world history, my oldest only is engaged in that. My younger two love the SOTW activity book with its crafts, and my oldest one doesn’t care a lick for anything in that activity book. So, for the younger two, we’ll do American history–mostly for the opportunity to DO the crafts; for my older son, we’ll cruise at a faster pace through world history. It looks like there will be more days that history class will be with my oldest only rather than with all three.
Tip#10 Finish the morning with a single student–not trying to herd all the monkeys or their mess. I used to end the morning with history. Ugh. And if things went well, then I had a couple so involved in a craft, they would not want to stop or clean up the mess for lunch! So I end with spelling for my oldest. That way the crafty ones have that time to clean up, and I can ask spelling words while I get lunch together. I’m into not wasting time AND fitting in as much before lunch as possible.
Tip #11 Quiet time. This is the only thing on the list not new. But it’s my biggest/best tip for any homeschool mom. If you’re like me, you need some quiet without demands. (I have work to do: I teach classes to other homeschooled kids, in CC’s Challenge program, and I’m trying desperately to finish my novel, Still House, finally.) And if your kids are like most kids, they might need some time away from their siblings just as much. We are on top of each other 24/7. For 1.5 hours, each person is in a different room, alone. This is when they do math worksheets, handwriting and copywork–all things best done alone. When they are done, they may do any other quiet activity in that same room. This is also the time i let the preschooler watch her own Netflix shows–because, heaven knows, the brothers re not inclined to let her watch much Angelina Ballerina…
And as always, I don’t want the schedule to rule us, so it’s more of a guide. If we’re having a good conversation about something, I don’t want to cut it off just because the schedule says we should be doing something else. Now that I”m in my fourth week of this schedule, I’m finding it works quite well–better than any previous year’s first draft. I scheduled 45 minute blocks two times on there. I’m finding we don’t often need 45 minutes (but it’s scheduled for when we do–with some activity or craft.) BUT, I am finding that gives us daily grace so there’s wiggle room. I know I have two 15 minute blocks that may not be needed.
Negative: I still do not like the 1:45 read-aloud time in the afternoon. I used to do it before noon, but this year, there just wasn’t room. Today, I clean forgot about it!! I’m often struggling with droopy eyes…so tired…but I’ve not found a better solution. I really just still don’t like that we are doing any instruction after lunch! But it is necessary now.